Welcome back to Ask a Local, a series of posts in which I interview locals all over the world about what to see, where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in in their city or town. The following interview was originally published in my Italy guide.
Today I’m happy to introduce you to Girogio Sperandio, a studen, musician, and cyclist here to tell us all about Siena – one of Italy’s most visited tourist attractions, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the site of the world-famous horse race.
First, tell us about you.
I am a student in Environmental Sciences, originally from Le Marche. I decided to move to Siena to continue my studies here about a year and a half ago. In my free time, I like playing percussion, listening to music from different cultures, juggling, cycling, and visiting natural parks.
If someone is visiting Siena for the first time, what do you recommend they see or do?
Siena is a really nice city. The first thing to see, of course, is
Piazza del Campo, the main square. The first time you will be shocked. Other nice places include the Fortezza Medicea (a fortress near the center), the Dome, and the Torre del Mangia (the big tower in Piazza del Campo). In every corner, you can also find churches and Medieval architecture. And in July and August, there is the Palio di Siena—the famous horse race.
What neighborhoods or parts of town are best to stay in?
In the center, you’ll probably pay a lot of rent, but it’s the best place to stay. And if you stay inside the ancient walls, it’s easy to explore the whole city on foot.
Tell us about the local dishes. What should people try here?
Siena has a lot of sweets: cavallucci (a Christmas pastry with almonds and candied fruit), panforte (the Italian version of fruitcake), and ricciarelli (almond cookies) are all really good. Also pici caio e pepe (pasta with cheese and pepper).
What are your top three favorite bars and restaurants?
The bar L’incontro (located at Strada di Sant’Abondio 56) is the cheapest and it’s where all the students hang out. The owners are kind and you will find a lot of nice and interesting people.
La Corte dei Miracoli (located at Via Roma 56) is a place that organizes a lot of electronic music at night and features cultural shows (photos, drawings, paintings) and activities (yoga, dance, and other kinds of classes that are open to everyone—student or otherwise) on the weekends.
Another place to see is the Bella Vista Social Pub (located at Via San Martino 31). Inside, you’ll find a lot of strange interior design and good, danceable music.
Is there anything tourists do that locals find rude or strange? What can we do to better fit in with the culture?
The only thing that people who live in Siena care about is the city quarter (or contrade). They get really angry if you say something bad about their contrada—even to the point of blows sometimes. It is normal see brawls (more in the summer) about this kind of stuff.
What is the best way to meet locals and make friends?
In Piazza del Campo in the summer, you can find a lot of nice, crazy people doing everything from running crazy around the square to singing together to playing music. You can pass the whole night there in the square.
Why should people make sure to visit Siena?
History. Relaxation. Good food.
What is the best place to go take beautiful photos of the city?
Piazza del Campo and Orto dei Tolomei—a little garden, busy and beautiful in spring and summer.